There is a downside to being a professional virtual football gamer and also a semi-professional footballer – your real-life manager expects you to be just as good!
Basingstoke Town winger and video-game expert Reece Rusher is one of the best FIFA players – an online football game – in the world but has raised expectations for Dragons boss Martin Kuhl.
“He says, ‘You’d have scored that on FIFA, why haven’t you scored it here?’” laughed the 23-year-old. “But the relationship is good, we’re on the right terms. He’s the best gaffer I’ve worked under.”
Rusher joined Southampton’s academy at the age of six and trained with the likes of England internationals Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse.
“You could see they were top class,” said the Saints fan.
“Chambo I knew [would make it] 100 per cent. He had just had everything.
“The day before my 14th birthday I got released. I was gutted. It was Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday for my whole life. I was training that night, I went up to the boardroom and got told about it.
Went down, didn’t see the boys, I didn’t really think, I was just so upset. Just went home and that was it.
“Then I tore my meniscus and cruciate ligaments at 15 during a PE lesson. I was out of football for a good two years.”
Rusher returned and played locally in Andover before having spells at Salisbury and Winchester City, signing for Basingstoke this summer where he already attracted the attention of scouts in pre-season following a goalscoring performance against Luton Town.
Meanwhile, his video-game career was taking off and earlier this year he qualified to represent Southampton in the ePremier League, a tournament where each top-flight side is represented virtually, which was shown live on Sky Sports.
“I’m a geek, I’m good at every game,” he said. “FIFA 17 I started playing it properly, playing against a load of good players and meeting them. FIFA 18 I joined an organisation run by Christian Fuchs, the Leicester City defender. Last year I competed for a team called Lightning Pandas at events.
“The ePremier League tournament – anyone in the world could sign up. For a month you play six games a day, whoever got the most wins at the end of the month would go to 16-man tournament at the representative grounds.
“I went to St Mary’s, I won that and qualified for the main event at Gfinity Arena in London. I got to the quarter-finals and matched up against the best player in the game. I went 2-0 up and I was battering him, he even admits it to me to this day. I was inexperienced in that sort of environment being up against the best. He beat me and went on to win it.
“I’m in talks with a few teams at this moment in time to be under someone before the new game comes out later this month.”
Teams help with funding and the top players can earn serious money. According to Rusher a 17-year-old has six figures in his bank account while others earn ten or five grand a month.
Rusher will invest £3,500 into in-game add-ons to develop the best team. He currently works full-time as a football coach, has a girlfriend but still finds time to spend 50 hours a week gaming, although he’s determined to turn professional in real life.
“Last year was probably the hardest competitive FIFA for me,” he said. “The qualifications for all the big tournaments were on Saturdays.
“I knew I was good enough to qualify for them, tournaments for £25k, £50k, £75k, £250k. I placed exactly 100th in the world. But I’m so professional with my real football that I focus on that. When it’s up for so much money it’s hard not to play in the tournaments, but it’s a gamble you’ve got to take.
“Football is my life and I’m not going to let something virtual take over. I sleep about five hours a day, when I’ve got a football game I go to bed early. I’m really professional when it comes to football.
“Every game I always put 100 per cent in, I want to make it, I want to go up the leagues and be a professional footballer and I won’t stop until my legs stop.
“I feel where I’m at now, with the gaffer I’ve got, I’m in the right place. I’m playing every minute.
“I scored in the first game of the season and had two assists. It’s early days and I’ve got positive thoughts for this season.”
Reece Rusher has since signed for FIFA team FUTWIZ
? Top 8 ePremier League FIFA 19 (Xbox, representing Southampton)
? Consistent Top 100 monthly finishes on FIFA 17, 18 and 19!
? The newest member of #TeamFUTWIZ
Delighted to welcome @RRusher7 to Team FUTWIZ! ??
— ?????? (@FUTWIZ) September 12, 2019